The Ducks set off on a three game road trip tonight, starting in Vancouver, then to Calgary and finishing Friday in Minnesota. These games (and next Wednesday against the Kings) are really the only ones left on the schedule in which the Ducks can directly impact the Western Conference playoff race (other than seeding). The thing is, it doesn't necessarily behoove them to win all of these games.
Currently Vancouver, Calgary and Minnesota are all in the playoffs while Los Angeles and San Jose are not. I don't know about you, but that's pretty ideal to me. The Ducks have lost two games to their next three opponents combined this season, and both were in shootouts. While Anaheim has had some success this year against the Kings (2-0-2) we all know, that's not who we want in the playoffs, and of course the Sharks have been mediocre to bad against the rest of the league, but completely unstoppable against the Ducks.
Having said all that, tonight's game against Vancouver is probably the least impactful to the race of the three on this trip. The Canucks currently sit second in the Pacific Division with 78 points (three more than LA, six more than San Jose and 13 less than Anaheim). Really the playoff spots that are in more danger are Calgary's third in the Pacific and the Wild Cards (Minnesota and Winnipeg). To their credit, Vancouver did everyone a solid by beating San Jose 3-2 Saturday night with Radim Vrbata scoring twice. However, that was only their second win in their last five which included games against Buffalo and Arizona (Loss and OTL, respectively)
Just to be clear, I am in no way saying the Ducks should throw these three games, or even that I expect the standings to shake out like this. I'm just saying, maybe if they go to overtime... or don't end up doing so great on this trip it's not the end of the world.
After all that bad magumbo, let's take a look at some roster updates. The Ducks are getting closer and closer to full strength as James Wisniewski and Korbinian Holzer skated with the team for the first time yesterday, while Matt Beleskey and Sami Vatanen both continued their recoveries on the ice as well. According to Bruce Boudreau in the Ducks' practice report, all four will likely be eligible to play within the next seven to ten days.
Also from the Ducks' official practice report, the lines are going back in the blender. The only line not to be touched this time by Boudreau was the Ryan Kesler, Tomas Fleischmann, Jakob Silfverberg line. Corey Perry was split from Ryan Getzlaf again and even more disappointingly, Emerson Etem was separated from Rickard Rakell and Jiri Sekac.
On the other side of the ice, Vancouver will be without Ryan Miller, Kevin Bieksa, Christopher Tanev and Brad Richardson, who have all been on injured reserve for weeks. Also Chris Higgins missed the game against San Jose with an undisclosed injury suffered in practice, but is listed as day-to-day.
What can we learn from this game:
The Ducks are really just in a waiting game right now. Waiting for players to return from injury, waiting for the playoffs to start, even (based on the line combinations from yesterday) waiting for Getzlaf and Perry (and hopefully Ricky, Etem, Cakes?) to be put back together. But since the result of the game isn't necessarily the most important and we won't be able to see the full lineup for another week or so, Bruce might as well experiment with different combinations to see if something unexpectedly works.
Nick Bonino "breaks the hearts" of his old mates with an overtime winner.